Best Of :: Food & Drink
When Caracol opened in late December 2013, the crowds came, not just in support of the beloved duo of chef Hugo Ortega and restaurateur Tracy Vaught but because the space was amazing and offered food to match. From the get-go, Caracol operated like a well-oiled machine. Signature dishes, like the wood-grilled oysters topped with chipotle butter, quickly emerged. In fact, pretty much everything coming out of the kitchen was superb: tuna tacos in which the fish was cooked to mimic carnitas; shrimp aguachile served atop a bed of beautifully arranged cucumber; whole grilled fish; and the namesake ceviche de caracol (conch), so fresh it tasted of the ocean. Drinks, overseen by veteran beverage director Sean Beck, complemented the cuisine perfectly, from that lesser known glass of Italian Vermentino to creative cocktails made with mezcal or tequila. And the sweets were automatic winners, with wonders like the much-Instagrammed El Coco, a coconut dessert encased in a hollow round chocolate shell that you got to crack open with a wooden hammer. From the food to the drinks and the ambience to the service, Caracol had it all from the start — a recipe for success and the reason it merits the title of Best New Restaurant of 2014.
Head to this Heights kitchenette for not one, not two, but four drool-worthy skillets of macaroni and cheese. Each dish comes hot and bubbling with a crisp, buttery crust and molten, gooey core. Go au naturel with the classic American and aged cheddar skillet; dive head-first into one loaded with sweet and succulent lobster meat and herbs; or go for the gold with a sausage, bacon and chile-loaded affair to remember. An always changing mac of the day — which has been known to include everything from chili-cheese dogs and tater tots to smoked salmon and cream cheese — rounds out the fantastically cheesy quartet.
The Urban Harvest Farmers Market at Eastside Street is the place to be on Saturday mornings. From 8 a.m. to noon, numerous vendors set up stations to serve their specialty goods, be they fruits, vegetables, macarons, breads, cheese, coffee or olive oil. You can purchase groceries from local producers, such as Atkinson Farm, Airline Seafood, Tavola Pasta and Tejas Heritage Farm, or grab a few desserts and prepared foods from Sinfull Bakery, Shade and Canopy, and Revival Market. If you miss the market on Saturday, you can stop by on Sunday as well, but there are fewer vendors then.
My Food Park HTX opened in late 2013 and brought a cornucopia of food-truck cuisine to the west Houston Energy Corridor. With three and a half acres of land, there's always a place to sit and dig into your food — not many food-truck parks have such relaxing seating. The lineup of trucks changes each day, but you can always count on My Food Park HTX to have movie nights each Friday and Saturday, as well as other special themes throughout the week, including Hump Day Wednesdays and Magical Mondays. Pop a squat at a picnic table for an afternoon weekday lunch, or kick off your weekend with dinner and a movie. Stay late on Saturdays to munch on sweets from the likes of Zeapod Cakery and Sno Cone City HTX.
If you want killer frites with house-made roasted garlic aioli, a fantastic warm goat cheese and hazelnut salad, or classic boeuf bourguignon, get your butt to this French restaurant in Rice Village. Café Rabelais isn't open at all hours of the day, but when it is, these folks are dishing out incredible food in a quaint and rustic French country restaurant. Satisfy any midday hunger pangs with a braised pork shoulder sandwich with honey thyme sauce, pickled onions and carrots for less than $10, or stick to the daily selections of fish and quiche. The menu changes daily, but that's to ensure each dish uses the freshest ingredients. The vanilla ice cream profiteroles or a succulent poached pear are a great way to end a romantic evening.
Rebecca Masson, a.k.a. The Sugar Fairy, made a name for herself nationally as a competitor on Top Chef: Just Desserts in 2011, but she also has grabbed Houston's attention with exquisite treats from her custom bake shop, Fluff Bake Bar. Various coffee shops and markets in the city sell her unfrosted cakes, cookie sandwiches and French macarons in surprising flavors, such as Werther's Caramel. Her edgy style and adventurous palate help her create finger-licking-good sweets you most certainly want to pair with a glass of milk — or wine. Recently, Masson announced she will open a brick-and-mortar bakery in Midtown after a successful Kickstarter campaign, and along with her delicious cookies, cakes and brownies, she'll be serving wine and beer. Soon you'll have a central place to grab Masson's beautiful and flavorful desserts, rather than searching the city for one of those comforting Fluffernutters.
The Chicken Harvest Salad at Adair Kitchen is a simple dish, but features a multitude of ingredients that perfectly harmonize. The crisp, fresh butter lettuce sits underneath a combination of thinly sliced juicy strawberries; ripe avocado chunks; strong purple onions; chewy walnuts; soft, pungent goat cheese; and tender grilled chicken. The green herb dressing enhances the sweetness of the fruit while complementing the rest of the savory additions. It's filling yet light, just as a salad should be. With a side of crusty bread, what more could you ask for?
Think of this hip downtown watering hole as the late El Gran Malo's younger, more badass brother. With 50 handcrafted tequila infusions in flavors such as red roasted beet, peanut butter and vanilla habanero, this tequila house concocts one helluva margarita. Go classic with the agave, lemon and lime El House, or try the sweet and spicy Blueberry Jalapeño Cilantro masterpiece of a cocktail. And if you really like it wild, get the Mexican Candy, a drink made with not one but two tequilas — one infused with seasonal fruit and the other with three chiles.
You won't find ribs just in pig form at this barbecue mecca. Chef Ronnie Killen is serving up bones of the mighty cow, too. Large enough to make even Fred Flintstone swoon, the beef ribs are rich, smoky and full-on beefy with a lustrous cap of charred and rendered fat. One hefty rib comes in at around one and a half to two pounds, but don't worry; they're easy (and meaty) enough to share. The simply seasoned beef practically shreds itself at the touch. You'll likely find a line of 'cue enthusiasts looking for their next hit of these addicting sticks of meat candy. Trust us when we say you'll want to wait in said line.
Not only do the fine folks at this Heights spot offer locally made cheese and heritage-breed pork, lamb and chicken raised from their own farms, they also make their own charcuterie, available at the deli counter by the pound. Head here for fiery salumis, pecan-studded mortadella, lamb pastrami and special treats, including fresh corn johnnycakes and sweet and savory kolaches, that can't be rivaled. And while you're at it, pick up some house-made pickles, jams and condiments, too.
When it comes to business dining, we say, "Go big or go home." And there's no better place to do that than the classy, always impeccable Tony's on Richmond. Even though this fine dining establishment has been around for nearly 50 years, it continues to wow Houston crowds. Where else can you indulge in seared foie gras, light and airy white truffle soufflé, and melt-in-your-mouth Kobe beef — alongside one of the best wine programs in town? Just put it on the corporate card. Your clients will love you.
When it comes to dining with kids, there are few things greater than a restaurant with a playground. And at this casual lakeside eatery, that playground is the always-popping Discovery Green. The menu is simple, with something for everyone. Enjoy plump and juicy smokehouse burgers and dogs alongside grilled salmon salad, chicken and beef tacos, crisp fish sandwiches, and more. Kids will love the soft-serve ice cream, while adults will appreciate the selection of local beer and wine — and the ice cream, too.